CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks needed a day off on Thursday after a wild night at the Madhouse on Madison Street, a.k.a. United Center.
The Blackhawks took the day to rest and recover a day after Brent Seabrook's Game 7 overtime goal ended a classic, emotionally-charged Western Conference Semifinal against the rival Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.
After the game, the Blackhawks who met with reporters wore looks on their faces that varied from relief to sheer exhaustion -- the result of a series in which they fell behind 3-1 and reeled off three straight victories to advance.
"The playoffs aren't easy," said Chicago center Dave Bolland, who delivered a big hit on Detroit's Gustav Nyquist that turned the puck over to Seabrook in OT. "You don't come in here thinking things are just going to happen and you're going to score and you're going to be a success. We've got to battle and play hard. We have to bear down … and this isn't the end. This is just another step towards the Stanley Cup."
It was a big one, though.
After losing to the Red Wings in a five-game 2009 conference final, the core group of Blackhawks in uniform for Game 7 Wednesday finally exorcized that demon -- which stuck in their craw the past four years despite winning the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Now comes the hard part.
They are still eight victories away from duplicating the way they ended the 2009-10 season, and standing in their way are the Los Angeles Kings -- the defending Stanley Cup champions who are coached by former Blackhawks player and coach Darryl Sutter.
The Kings are big, physical and defense-oriented. They're also backed by Jonathan Quick, one of the NHL's elite goalies. Chicago not only has all that to deal with this weekend, but the Blackhawks also have to guard against a letdown from beating Detroit while playing on back-to-back days to begin the series -- starting with Game 1 on Saturday (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"They protect their net well and when you do get to the net they've got one of the best goalies in the League making saves," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, who scored his seventh goal of the postseason in Game 7 against the Red Wings. "It's not going to get any easier, that's for sure, but hopefully we can raise our level and play well."
If the prio series is any indicator, they have that ability. Asked what they'd learned about their team during the first two rounds of the playoffs, Seabrook used the "R" word many wondered if the Blackhawks had after cruising through a shortened regular season with 77 points in 48 games to win the Presidents' Trophy.
"Resilient," Seabrook said. "I don't think we played as well as we could've during the Minnesota series [in the Western quarterfinals]. I don't think we played very well the first four games against Detroit. Give them credit. They played us hard and played us tough and took us out of our element, but we [had] to fight through that -- and in Games 5, 6 and 7 we really showed what we're all about."
After steamrolling to a 4-1 win in Game 5 to foil Detroit's first attempt to close out the series, the Blackhawks notched a 4-3 come-from-behind win in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, scoring three goals in the first half of the third period to spoil the Red Wings' second chance to advance.
Next up was Game 7 and more adversity to overcome. After Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson appeared to score the go-ahead goal with 1:49 left in regulation, sending United Center into hysterics, the tally was wiped out by referee Stephen Walkom.
He'd blown the play dead just seconds before the shot was taken for dual roughing minors in front of the Detroit bench, and just like that the pressure was right back on the Blackhawks' collective shoulders.
Instead of wilting, they rose to the occasion.
"We did have some learning curve in this round," Seabrook said. "Detroit played a great series. We really had to find ourselves again after the fourth game, being down 3-1, and I thought the boys responded well. Detroit gave us all they had and it was just nice to come out on the winning end of this one."
The Stanley Cup, however, was not awarded Wednesday night -- even though it felt like it could've been. That's how intense the series was between the Blackhawks and Red Wings, who are moving to the Eastern Conference as part of realignment and didn't want to leave the West on a losing note.
"Talking with the guys about the series … that was a tough series," said Sharp, who looked spent afterward. "It felt like getting to the net and getting scoring chances was a battle. It feels good to win, but we know in the playoffs the further you go the tougher it gets."
Welcome to Chicago, Los Angeles Kings.
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